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‘Momentous step’ for Stardust families’ campaign for justice

Families attended the first preliminary inquest hearing on Wednesday.

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Damage at Stardust Disco in Artane, Dublin, where in the early hours 48 youngsters perished in a fire. The Attorney General has said his decision to open a new inquest into the worst fire in Ireland’s history ‘drew on analogies of the Hillsborough disaster’ (PA)

Damage at Stardust Disco in Artane, Dublin, where in the early hours 48 youngsters perished in a fire. The Attorney General has said his decision to open a new inquest into the worst fire in Ireland’s history ‘drew on analogies of the Hillsborough disaster’ (PA)

Damage at Stardust Disco in Artane, Dublin, where in the early hours 48 youngsters perished in a fire. The Attorney General has said his decision to open a new inquest into the worst fire in Ireland’s history ‘drew on analogies of the Hillsborough disaster’ (PA)

A solicitor for relatives of those killed in the Stardust fire said Wednesday signifies a momentous step on behalf of their campaign for justice, which has lasted for almost 40 years.

Families attended the first preliminary inquest hearing at Dublin Coroner’s Court on Wednesday.

Full inquests into the deaths of 48 young people who died in the blaze at the Stardust nightclub in Artane in Dublin on Valentine’s Day in 1981 was granted last year.

Opening the pre-inquest, senior coroner Dr Myra Cullinane dealt with a number of procedural issues, including the disclosure of documents into the state’s worst fire.

It was the first of a number of hearings to be held before next year’s inquest at Dublin Castle.

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Tributes to the 48 victims of the Stardust nightclub fire in Dublin on Valentine’s Day in 1981, outside Leinster House in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)

Tributes to the 48 victims of the Stardust nightclub fire in Dublin on Valentine’s Day in 1981, outside Leinster House in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)

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Tributes to the 48 victims of the Stardust nightclub fire in Dublin on Valentine’s Day in 1981, outside Leinster House in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)

Dr Cullinane told the court that some 420 people attended the dancing competition at Stardust, with the majority aged between 18 and 25 years.

Most came from Artane and Coolock in North Dublin.

“It remains one of the largest losses of life arising out of incident in the history of the state,” she told the court.

“Therefore fresh inquests will be held in relation to each of the deceased.”

She then read the individual names of those who were killed in the fire.

“To each of the families of the deceased I want to express my deepest condolences,” the coroner added.

Everyone in court stood for a moment’s silence in memory of those who died.

The court heard that each family will describe their loved ones at the opening of the full inquest.

Up until this point there has been a situation of hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. Darragh Mackin

Known as pen portraits, Dr Cullinane said it will bring some human detail of those lives that were lost and “here to vindicate”.

Findings will be made into each individual, the court heard.

She made reference to the initial inquests that were held in the aftermath of the fire, hearings that the families have always rejected.

Officials originally ruled that the cause of the fire was arson, a theory that was never accepted by bereaved relatives, who said it tarnished the reputations of those who died.

The arson ruling was later discounted following a fresh inquiry in 2009.

Solicitor Darragh Mackin, who represents 44 of the families involved, welcomed the coroner’s decision to allow the pen portraits.

He said it puts families and victims at the centre of the process.

He added: “The purpose is that families will have the opportunity to make it clear that whilst we refer to the 48 deceased, they were in fact 48 people who were brothers, sisters, mothers and sisters and friends.

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Solicitor Darragh Mackin told the Coroner’s Court that it is crucial families are at the forefront of the inquest (Niall Carson/PA)

Solicitor Darragh Mackin told the Coroner’s Court that it is crucial families are at the forefront of the inquest (Niall Carson/PA)

PA

Solicitor Darragh Mackin told the Coroner’s Court that it is crucial families are at the forefront of the inquest (Niall Carson/PA)

“For them that bears a considerable significance in the inquest process.

“It is worth nothing that until this point, the families have fought relentlessly for 39 years and have been met with obstacles, failed investigation after failed investigation and what we will say was a state-sponsored effort to cover up what actually happened at Stardust.

“For those families it is crucial that they are at the forefront of the inquest process because it is crucial for their confidence in the process to have participation.

“The coroner will hear in due course pen portraits from a mother and father who lost their only child, they will hear a daughter who became orphaned as a result of the events, a family whose father was a fireman who was intimidated if he spoke out.

“The coroner will hear from a community, a section of people and families who were criminalised by their only allegation which is from where they came, which in our submission must not be forgotten.

“Up until this point there has been a situation of hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.”

He said that, while there has been a considerable passage of time, the facts do not “cease to exist” and will not be ignored.

“Today signifies a momentous step on behalf of the campaign for justice that has lasted, regrettably, 39 years,” he added.

“Today draws a line in the sand on those previous failed investigations.

“We are confident this inquest will be the pathway to justice and no stone will be left unturned.”

The proceedings were adjourned for some six weeks.

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